As the summer boating season draws near, local authorities are urging Huntington boaters to play it safe.
To kick off Memorial Day weekend, Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, along with officials from the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau and Bay Constable, announced an increase in enforcement patrolling the Huntington waterways. The increase is a result of rising incidents and deaths involving unsafe and intoxicated boaters.
“Across Long Island, and much of New York State, boating accidents and deaths on the waterways have been increasing in the last few years,” said Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. “Last year, 22 people in New York State, including 7 here on Long Island, were killed in boating accidents. That is up from a total of 16 boating deaths from the previous year.”
In 2016, there were 87 deaths due to intoxicated boaters nationwide, which was one of the highest contributing factors of casualties for that year. According to the 2017 Recreational Boating Report for New York State, 10 accidents were attributed to alcohol use, but the majority of accidents for that year occurred due to weather conditions and operator inattention and inexperience.
“At the local level, coastguards and local marinas have noticed fewer boaters wearing life jackets and a general inattention to the rules on the waterways,” said Supervisor Lupinacci. “A coastguard officer recently told me he stopped a boater who seemed lost and the officer asked the boater if he had a map. He didn’t have a map that could be useful. What he had was a paper place-mat from a local restaurant. So we want to remind people to be cautious of the waterways and be prepared.”
Some helpful tips for boaters, Lupinacci said, is to ensure they have life-jackets on board for every passenger, bring supplies, check gas and oil levels, take a boating safety course, and never operate a boat while intoxicated.
“One of the biggest things we emphasize is common sense,” Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena said. “Common sense is your best friend when you’re out on the water.”
Uvena stresses the importance of preparedness. He states that life-jackets should be easily accessible on a boat and passengers should be aware of its location in case of emergencies. Uvena also advises boaters to watch out for designated buoys, Kayakers, paddle boarders, and to inform friends or family when they plan to operate their boating vessels.
“Let someone know that you are leaving and when your return is,” said Uvena, “because a lot of times when we have [search and rescue] vessels out there, we find that we call the people and they don’t know what time they left. This way we have a way of helping us find you.”
Among those speaking at the conference was Gina Lieneck, who tragically lost her 11-year-old daughter, Brianna Lieneck, in 2005 in a boating accident.
“The gentleman charged,” Gina Lieneck said, “did not know how to shoot off a flare, and he did not know how to make a distress call.”
The accident occurred when the bow of Steven Fleischer’s boat slammed into the side of the Lienecks’ boat. Officers smelled alcohol on Fleischer and he was charged with boating while intoxicated. However, tests showed that no alcohol or drugs were present in his blood at the time, which led to the charges being dismissed.
Today, Gina Lieneck is working on passing a piece of legislation that’ll require individuals to educate themselves on boating safety before operating mechanically propelled vessels.
“We are currently working with Senator Phil Boyle and Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre on a bill,” said Lieneck, “for mandatory boating safety classes. It’s very important to know rules and regulations of the waterways.”
Along with required in-classroom safety courses, the bill would also enforce a mandatory blood alcohol test and breathalyzer test within 2 hours of a boating incident if a serious injury or fatality occurred.
“This is something that needs to happen.” Lieneck said. “We’re not decreasing accidents – we’re increasing. We have to think of the welfare and the well-being of everyone on the waterways … We need to make this change, and we need to make it now before we see more lives lost on our waters.”